Book Review – Straight Life by Art and Laurie Pepper

Jazz. I am sad to say it is not a genre of music I am very familiar with. Oh, I know the big boys…Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Monk…but after that I am pretty lost. When I ran across this book I had only vaguely heard the name Art Pepper (I knew he was a horn player but that was it) and I am not sure why I even decided to read it. I am glad I stumbled across it. This book is riveting. Laurie Pepper (Art’s third wife) wrote it out from hours of audio interviews with Art and various people in his life…and what an amazing life it was. Art Pepper may have out Bukowskied Bukowski.

Everyone knows a person (be it a older relative or co-worker or spouse) that talks straight without regard for political correctness or a regard of your perception about them. Art Pepper is one of those people. From his sad childhood, to his life as a touring musician, to heroin addiction, to life as a petty thief, to multiple prison sentences, to living in a cult, to musical rebirth and finally cocaine addiction…this book hides nothing and it does not try to gloss over the ugliness Art created by his compulsions and addictions. It is all laid bare in this book. There is a hard to read passage in the book where Art recalls forcing himself on a woman whom said no to his advances…let’s call it what it is…he raped a girl.

Art’s life is tragic and pathetic. Take this passage where he describes his thoughts after using heroin for the first time…I said, “This is it. This is the only answer for me. If this is what it takes, then this is what I’m going to do, whatever dues I have to pay…” And I knew that I would get busted and I knew that I would go to prison and that I wouldn’t be weak; I wouldn’t be an informer like all the phonies, the no-account, the nonreal, the zero people that roam around, the scum that slither out from under rocks, the people that destroy music, that destroyed this country, that destroy the world, the rotten, fucking, lousy people that for their own little ends – the black power people, the sickening, stinking motherfuckers that play on the fact that they’re black, and all this fucking shit that happened later on – the rotten, no-account, filthy women that have no feeling for anything; they have no love for anyone; they don’t know what love is; they are shallow hulls of nothingness – the whole group of rotten people that have nothing to offer, that are nothing, never will be anything, were never intended to be anything. All I can say is, at that moment I saw that I’d found peace of mind.

Or this as he describes his feelings after taking part in a burglary…I was really strung out but I was just so happy. We’re driving along, and Frank opens the box and says, “Wow!” I look over and I see that there’s just stacks of money. I felt so happy. I had never felt any elation like that before.. It was a feeling of power, a feeling of accomplishment, I really felt like a man. I don’t think I’ve ever been so satisfied with anything I’ve done. I looked at the people on the streets and I thought, “They ain’t nothin’ compared to me! I’m a giant! King Pepper! King Arthur! Mr. Jazz! Mr. Everything!”

His life’s story is one deserving to be made into a movie. Done right it could be a compelling piece of dark cinema. The book is an amazing read. I recommend  this book if you like biographies that walk on the dark side of the road. 4.5 out of 5 Stars.

The book is light on insight on Art’s music. The subject is hardly ever touched on. After I finished the book I wanted to hear what Art Pepper sounded like. I ran into a new vinyl disc at a local record store called Neon Art, Volume One on the Omnivore Record label. Two tracks on the record, Red Car (17 minutes) and Blues for Blanche (18 minutes), and I was very impressed with his playing. I am not a jazz expert, but I enjoyed what I heard. Omnivore will be releasing two more volumes in the series all on colored vinyl.

Laurie Pepper runs a website dedicated to Art’s music where you can purchase unreleased music and listen to some free tracks. Click over to Widows Taste Music to explore more.

Check out this documentary on Art. It shows the musical genius of Art and the madness of the same man.

About santasangreredux

Just a guy with a love of music, family and relaxing with a book.

Posted on October 11, 2012, in Random Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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